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A lamp and two lanterns are described on page 152 of the Player's Handbook as follows:

Lamp. A lamp casts bright light in a 15-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet. Once lit, it burns for 6 hours on a flask (1 pint) of oil.

Lantern, Bullseye. A bullseye lantern casts bright light in a 60-foot cone and dim light for an additional 60 feet. Once lit, it burns for 6 hours on a flask (1 pint) of oil.

Lantern, Hooded. A hooded lantern casts bright light in a 30-foot radius and dim light for an additional 30 feet. Once lit, it burns for 6 hours on a flask (1 pint) of oil. As an action, you can lower the hood, reducing the light to dim light in a 5-foot radius.

In real life, these devices have a way to adjust their wick to put out their flame. However, the phrasing of "Once lit, it burns for 6 hours on a flask (1 pint) of oil" made me wonder if the intent was to only allow them to burn for the full 6 hours. That would probably consume the oil more quickly than necessary -- especially if your party has darkvision -- but it does have the benefit of not requiring anyone to track the consumption of fractional pints of oil.

I then realized that the same argument could be applied to candles (pg. 151):

Candle. For 1 hour, a candle sheds bright light in a 5-foot radius and dim light for an additional 5 feet.

When I first read this, I assumed you could blow out and relight a candle at will, but I now wonder if, once you light a candle, it's consumed. Otherwise you're tracking fractions of burned candle.

And then there's the torch (pg. 153):

Torch. A torch burns for 1 hour, providing bright light in a 20-foot radius and dim light for an additional 20 feet. If you make a melee attack with a burning torch and hit, it deals 1 fire damage.

In this case, based only on my impressions from fiction, I had assumed the torch had no way to douse it without making it unsuitable to be relit (like dunking it in water or covering it in sand or dirt) -- but maybe that's not true.

As far as I can tell, the PHB doesn't describe any way to routinely put out any of its non-magical light sources, so my question comes down to these:

  1. Does this lack of description mean that if the light sources are put out before their duration is over, they're nonetheless fully consumed?

  2. Or is being able to put out and reignite these light sources an assumed part of the normal functioning of the universe, just like all the other normal things that aren't explicitly stated in the rulebooks?

  3. Or do groups follow one option over the other based on their attitude toward resource management? Those who track every last ration and arrow also track fractional oil pints and fractional candles, but those who don't, don't?

Or have I missed something else entirely?


Somewhat related, from Pathfinder 1e: Can incendiary arrows be put out and re-ignited?


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Yes, you can put them out

Common sense states that you can put out light sources to conserve them. Mundane items in D&D should function in essentially the same way they would in real life, although their behavior may be simplified for ease of play. When a lantern says "burns for X hours on Y pints of oil" this is meant to imply the rate at which the lantern burns.

However, this could make the game overly complicated

As you imply, tracking fractions of a candle or a lamp could be tedious and complicated for a group to keep track of. It's simpler to just assume that the lamp lasts 6 hours. Since lamps, torches, and candles are very inexpensive, conserving them doesn't provide practical utility in most cases.

There are situations where putting out a lamp, torch or candle could help the players

For example, if the party wishes to be stealthy, having a bright lantern is going to make that rather difficult. Making it so that they're unable to extinguish the lamp would be unreasonable in this case.

Torches can be smothered and relit in real life

They also can be relit after being doused in water. Torches are just pitch (a tar like substance) on a stick. Pitch is waterproof, so just shake off the moisture and you're good to go.

To answer your questions directly:

  1. Yes, they can be put out.

  2. Yes, this is part of the normally functioning universe.

  3. Yes, each group will have it's own way of approaching this issue if it comes up.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding how inexpensive candles and other mundane light sources are, I wasn't worried about their availability when in a civilized location. I was thinking more about when the party is in an isolated area (dungeon, wilderness, etc.). In those kinds of places, once their supplies are gone, they're gone. \$\endgroup\$
    – gto
    May 22 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would still regard this as part of the normally functioning universe, and say yes, they can be relit. When the party is in an isolated area, it would depend on how well stocked they were before If they brought a 2 gallons of oil (3 pints per PC or so), they have enough for 96 hours of continuous light, which would most likely be enough for a dungeon crawl. If they were in the wilderness, light is less of an issue unless they're actively moving at night (they can just make a fire). \$\endgroup\$ May 22 at 0:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ As to the tracking being tedious point, when considering cost/weight/time for the items, perhaps tally marks to mark used hours on physical sheets (thus 1 hour increments), & a number next to name on digital sheets. \$\endgroup\$
    – Journer
    May 23 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ As far as reducing tedium, I think most situations it can be reduced by tracking how many total hours of light you have without worrying about tracking the individual torches, pints of oil, etc. Changing out torches or refilling lamps and lanterns is largely background behavior anyway. \$\endgroup\$
    – shhalahr
    Jun 22 at 16:02
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@Jake answers the mechanics excellently in his answer.

To answer the resource management:

What do people track?

I suspect that most groups don't track torches, etc, with any real accuracy as most groups probably don't track time with any real accuracy – and besides, most groups will have someone with the light cantrip. Most groups don't track resources (arrows etc) very accurately since for most groups that's not where the fun is.

If you're going to, then players will stock up on (arrows, torches, oil), which means they're not an issue, unless you also track weight properly – which is another thing to remember – and if you do, weight largely becomes moot once they find a bag of holding. All in all it's a lot of work for probably little gain.

It depends on what type of game you want to run.

If you want to run a 'gritty' game, where encumbrance, 100 CP vs 1 GP, how many minutes it takes to walk down a passage and how that's affected by checking for traps, how long you've got left on your torch, etc, all matter, then yes, track it all.
Also, there's water – you need 2 waterskins / day IIRC. They travel slower if they're making a map. Have a look at some early D&D adventures – the players literally can't search the whole dungeon because they haven't got enough torches to do so. They have to make decisions to waste their torch time checking for traps at the risk of running out of light in combat later.

That's an entirely valid approach, but probably not the most popular one, and definitely one that 5e tends to avoid as 5e has simplified a lot of this stuff.

Why? Because for most groups, the fun is in killing dragons rather than the 'resource management minigame' of torches in dungeon crawls.

What should you do?

Decide what type of game you, and your players, will enjoy. Do you want to track time that accurately that fractional torches matter? Do you want to track multiple 10 minute or 1-hour duration effects?

The vague approach

Probably, what you need to track will vary as the party progresses.

At L1, my players decided to sleep in a field and just get meals in the inn to save those precious few SP they had, as they tried to save up for a healing potion. They frisked every goblin for the few coppers they carried.
Now, my players have ~500 GP each, and we don't really need to track bed & board costs of 5 silver/night in each inn. And I don't need to give each goblin d10 CP in his loincloth. It saves a lot of time, which can be spent on what, for our party, is more interesting 'bigger' decisions and plot.

By this approach, they need a torch (or a light cantrip) when they go into the dark, but don't sweat the details of the time too much, and err on the side of being generous to the players.

If you want to track fractional torches/etc...

Torches as time

To avoid tracking fractional candles, etc, one option would be to track 'time remaining' on torches – probably to 1/4 hour accuracy, as you're unlikely to be tracking time more accurately than that ("How many torches have you got left?" / "Three and a quarter hours").

Just for stealth

Alternatively, if the motivation is stealth rather than economy, it would be simple to rule that they can be snuffed and relit as much as you want within the hour they have to burn, but don't last beyond that (with perhaps the justification that relighting wastes some of their fuel).

For tension – the time pool

Another approach to time tracking is Angry GM's time pool (https://theangrygm.com/hacking-time-in-dnd/, and followup https://theangrygm.com/making-things-complicated/) – very basically: put a bowl on the table, and add a D6 every time they do something 'slow' like searching, or anything which takes vaguely 5 to 10 minutes. When there's six dice, an 'hour' has passed, and all 'hour duration' things end (spells, torches). Also you roll the dice for a chance of random encounters or other complications – this is key, as it creates the tension of the time ticking by.
Very visual; they can see time mounting up in the bowl. I'm looking forward to trying this out when we can finally play in person again.

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